The Colorado Avalanche has had an extremely strong and successful season so far. The goalkeeping game was an essential part of the Avalanche’s rise to the top of the leaderboard. Starter Philipp Grubauer and backup Pavel Francouz form an impressive double victory on the net, which enables the Avalanche to benefit from their speed and offensive talent.
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If the Avalanche acquired Grubauer from the Washington Capitals, they needed a netminder who could instill trust in the team in front of him. Now, almost two years later, he has given the Avalanche’s gate to the elite in hopes of cementing the team to playoff and Stanley Cup rivals.
Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier
After a miserable 48-point season in 2016/17, the Avalanche hoped that starting goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov would recover the following season. To a certain extent, he did. Varlamov started 2017/18 with 47 games and went 24-16-6 – an improvement from 6-17-0. Backup Jonathan Bernier did his best to hold the fort after Varlamov’s injury ended the season 19-16-3. These goal improvements helped get the Avalanche into the playoffs and secured a nearly 50-point improvement, ending the season with 95 points.
Semyon Varlamov played eight seasons for the Avalanche (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
With Varlamov injured, the Avalanche unfortunately faced the Nashville Predators in the first round without their number one goalkeeper. Instead, Bernier and Andrew Hammond shared the tasks between the pipes in the six-game series, in which the Avalanche lost 4-2. Bernier set a 1-3 record while Hammond went 1-1. The Avalanche’s early departure in the playoffs wasn’t just due to goalkeepers. Still, the Avalanche, who were aiming for a deeper playoff run, had to strengthen their goalkeeping situation in order to take the next step. Cue the trade for Philipp Grubauer.
Steal Braden Holtby’s job
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round, Grubauer became famous when he was headed by Capital’s head coach Barry Despite taking on Braden Holtby at the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Grubauer had been with the Capitals for six seasons, but it was his 2018 game that made him a contender for the Capitals starting position. After January 1, he went 13-5, including three-game and four-game winning streaks. This outstanding performance was enough to secure Holtby the starting role for the postseason. “My job is to just focus on my game and do it as well as possible.” – Braden Holtby on backing up the #Caps as the playoffs start on Thursday. #CBJ #CapsJackets https://t.co/SlYwCbMbFZ
Grubauer would only start two games for the Capitals, both against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The capitals went 0-2 in turn. It was at this point that Holtby took his crown back and rallied the team to four straight wins. Of course, Holtby led the capitals to their very first Stanley Cup championship this postseason. All doubts about his abilities or his future had been silenced.
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Grubauer had apparently faded into the background, but not without making a name for himself. His usurpation of Holtby had caught the attention of teams across the league. Clearly there was a man here with the potential to serve as the number one goalkeeper.
Grubauer against Varlamov
The Avalanche saw this potential very well when Grubauer acquired it from the Capitals for a draft pick in the second round. The Avalanche had struggled for consistent goalkeeping behavior and although Varlamov had shown solid net moves, his injuries and ups and downs made him unreliable. Grubauer intensified the avalanche between the pipes. With Varlamov and Grubauer vying for the starting place, the Avalanche was in a stronger position in the 2018/19 season.
Grubauer played his first season for the Avalanche in 2018-19 (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Grubauer picked up where he left off in Washington. He achieved an 18-9-5 record along with a saving of 0.917 percent (SV%) and 2.64 goals against the average (GAA). Varlamov struggled and finished the season 20-19-9. Grubauer was the Avalanche goalkeeper in the 2019 playoffs. In fact, after the 2019 season, the avalanche allowed Varlamov to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent and eventually signed a four-year deal with the New York Islanders. Grubauer had passed goalkeeper number one again.
Grubauer as an avalanche
Since his arrival, Grubauer has delivered exactly what the avalanche needed. Injury aside, he was a consistent, solid netminder that enabled the Avalanche to compete against any team in the NHL. After a strong 2018-19 regular season, he led the Avalanche to a first-round win against the Calgary Flames. He won four games in five starts and allowed only 10 goals. In the second round he helped the Avalanche compete against the impressive San Jose Sharks, and finally lost the series 3-2 in Game 7. Grubauer had an immediate positive effect on the Avalanche in his first season.
Expectations for the avalanche in the 2019-20 season were high. After a successful postseason run and some off-season additions, the Avalanche had the potential to win not only during the regular season but also in the playoffs. Grubauer made sure that the Avalanche took advantage of this potential. He is 18-12-4 with an SV% of 0.916 and a GAA of 2.63. It has been an integral part of the Avalanche’s success to this day.
Unfortunately, Grubauer was injured on February 17 during the 2020 Stadium Series game. Head coach Jared Bednar said it would be “weeks, not days” before he comes back. Fortunately, Pavel Francouz has been filling in well since then, but the Avalanche is definitely looking forward to Grubauer’s return. He helped move the team to second place in the Western Conference, and in the postseason he will be able to count on him to run a deep run.
Certainly the trade for Grubauer for the Avalanche has developed extraordinarily. Even with the advent of Francouz, Grubauer remains a key player and has developed into the goalkeeper they needed.
Nick Haydon reports on the Colorado Avalanche for The Hockey Writers. As an avid hockey fan, he loves to watch, talk and write about hockey. He strives to tell stories and provide insights and analysis with engaging content.